Review of Tempest from atariprotos.com
On the list of games that should never have been tried on the 2600, Tempest has to be near the top. Why Atari decided they could reproduce a 3D vector game on the 2600 is beyond me, but the results were disastrous. Thankfully Atari killed off this experiment gone wrong before it could hurt anybody.
I've said it once and I'll say it again; If there's one thing the 2600 doesn't do it's diagonals. Unfortunately Tempest is chock full of diagonals as the tubes angle out from the center of the screen to form complex geometric patterns. This leads us to the next problem, if there's a second thing the 2600 doesn't do it's complex geometric patterns! The 2600 version gets around this by not having 3D tubes, but rather a flat looking shape with the enemies coming from one side and the player moving on the other. For some reason the "shape" seems to flux and change a bit as things move around the screen, this is probably the result of a programming glitch. The "shape" is segmented into what could be called tubes (if you use your imagination), but these "tubes" don't seem to correspond to where the real tubes (which are invisible) are.
This brings us to the next problem, if there's a third thing the 2600 doesn't do it's 3D perspective. Atari couldn't get around this one; the 3D perspective is what makes Tempest "Tempest". Atari tried to simulate this by changing the enemy's size to make it look like it was getting closer. Unfortunately there aren't nearly enough frames of animation to do this, so the enemies sort of jump forward in an awkward fashion. The enemy graphics are very blocky and becomes even more evident as the size is increased when they approach the outer edge of the tube. This combined with a very blocky looking "shape" for the board makes for one nasty looking game.
Amazingly there are four different types of enemies present in this version.
Flippers: These are the little bowtie shaped guys who are the main enemy of the game. They're not dangerous until they reach the top of the tube and start coming after you.
Flipper Tankers: These will break into two Flippers when hit.
Pulsars : These guys are dangerous! They will electrocute the tube they're in every now and then killing you instantly if you're on it. In this version the tube doesn't light up when electrocuted, but the Pulsar itself will glow a second before, warning you to beware.
Fuseballs: These fun little guys are similar to Flippers but they only zip up and down the tube they're in.
The controls in this early version are very frustrating. There appear to be set places where your blaster can move to (hidden tubes), but they don't seem to correspond to the shape on the screen. This wouldn't be so bad if they were at regular intervals, but they seem to be very close together towards the middle of the screen and very far apart near the edges. This makes lining up your shots with the incoming enemies very difficult because you're not quite sure where the next "hidden tube" is. This coupled with the fact that the "jumping" enemies move very quickly up the short "tubes" makes for a very difficult game. The firing is a bit off as well, and it appears that your blaster will fire towards the left side of it's graphic instead of from the middle. This wouldn't be so bad if the bullets didn't have a bad habit of disappearing when too many object are on the screen (probably due to flicker), this can lead to some mysterious deaths from invisible bullets. Thankfully you have your Super Zapper in this version, which can be activated by pressing up and fire.
In the programmer's defense, they did a wonderful job on Tempest considering they were asked to do the impossible. Since this version isn't complete, it's really not fair to start judging it yet. Given some time, I'm sure a much more playable version with improved graphics and smother gameplay could have been put together. While it probably wouldn't have ever looked like its arcade counterpart, this prototype proves that Tempest could (in a very limited fashion) be done on the 2600. A later version with some added features like a title screen was reviewed in Ultimate Gamer magazine, but it's unknown what happened to that prototype.
January 4, 2014
Keep in mind, this was a prototype
It's easy to forget that the Atari 2600 was one of the first viable, programmable home video game consoles, and that many ideas were tried on it. Tempest is an example of one of those games that doesn't translate well to the 2600's limited graphics capability. But to call it a bad game is a bit harsh.
This ROM represents a very early prototype, barely playable and certainly nowhere close to polished. Atari (and the original programmer) abandoned this prototype long before the game would have been ready for beta testing, much less release.
In retrospect, a functional, playable version of Tempest may indeed have been possible on this console - there were numerous third-party games produced late in the 2600's life that produced graphics and sound nobody ever expected from it. But by the time the tricks of the trade that made those games could have been applied to Tempest, Atari had already moved on to the 5200 and beyond.
And many years later, this unfinished and neglected scrap of experimental code would be discovered and become one of the most hotly debated unreleased games of all time.